Adults who remain active in later life will see ‘significant improvements’ in quality of life as they age, according to a new study from Cambridge University.
In a study of over 1,500 people, both a reduction in the amount of time over 60s spent physically active and an increase in sedentary activity was associated with a lower quality of life.
The researchers highlight the need to encourage older adults to remain active and suggest that activity interventions should be considered in the care of older people to improve their quality of life.
The study results are published in Health and Quality of Life Outcomes.
Physical activity is known to reduce a number of diseases, including heart disease, strokes, diabetes, cancer and depression, particularly when the activity raises your heart rate. The most recent UK Government guidelines state older adults should aim to accumulate 150 min of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week. For older people, gardening, dancing, tennis, or a daily twenty-minute walk can help maintain physical activity levels.
Using accelerometers -devices which can be attached to participants and measure motion and vibrations – the team examined activity levels in 1,433 participants who were over 60 years of age and part of the EPIC (European Prospective Investigation into Cancer)-Norfolk study.
The participants also completed a questionnaire examining their health-related quality of life. The survey scored participants between zero and one, with zero being the worst quality of life and one being the best. It looked at overall well-being, including pain levels, their ability to care for themselves, and anxiety and mood. The researchers followed up with each participant just under six years after the initial assessments to observe changes in their behaviour and quality of life.
The smallest declines in all physical activity measures were associated with a better quality of life as age increased, and participants who showed higher levels of physical activity at the initial assessment were found to have a better quality of life six years later. Greater increases in all sedentary variables were associated with a poorer quality of life.
Both men and women were found to be doing around 24 minutes less moderate to vigorous activity a day six years after the initial assessment. At the same time, levels of sedentary activity increased by about 33 minutes for men and 38 minutes for women per day.
The researchers found that an hour a day of activity was associated with a 0.02 higher quality of life score. Conversely, for every minute drop in activity between the first and second assessment, quality of life scores dropped by 0.03. A participant who spent 15 fewer minutes per day engaged in physical activity would see their score drop by 0.45 by the second assessment.
In a clinical context, a 0.1 point improvement in quality of life scores has previously been associated with a 6.9% reduction in early death and a 4.2% reduction in risk of hospitalisation.
The researchers suggest that promoting physical activity and limiting sedentary time in individuals may be an appropriate approach to achieving a higher absolute quality of life.
Dr Dharani Yerrakalva from the University of Cambridge said: ‘Keeping yourself active and limiting – and where you can, breaking up – the amount of time you spend sitting down is really important whatever stage of life you’re at. This seems to be particularly important in later life when it can lead to potentially significant improvements to your quality of life and your physical and mental wellbeing.’